The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: How much does the signing of tight end Ladarius Green improve the offense?
The Steelers rarely make many high profile free agent signings, but the addition of Ladarius Green yesterday should count as one, at least as far as Pittsburgh is concerned. In the wake of the retirement of 11-year workhorse Heath Miller, the front office wanted to go into the draft without a hole to fill here, and they did that with this signing.
To begin with, the signing of Green in particular is very much in keeping with the front office’s philosophy in signing outside free agents over the course of the Kevin Colbert era. The former 2012 fourth-round pick has played second fiddle to Antonio Gates over the course of his career in San Diego, who just re-upped the veteran on a two-year deal.
Gates, who will turn 36 this year, is about 10 years older than Green, who at 6’6” and 240 pounds is much more of a move tight end than a blocker, which is not really in the Steelers’ mold. But he is a young under the radar player coming off his rookie contract and expanding into a bigger role. That was pretty much Mike Mitchell two years ago, and can describe many other free agent pickups.
Most important, of course, is what he will do on the field, and what he will be doing, primarily, is catching the ball, of course. Having a tall and fast target like Green in the slot will be a mismatch for defense on many occasions, and the Steelers have the quarterback who will be willing and able to take advantage of that with regularity, adding a new dimension to the offense that it really hasn’t ever had.
Gates was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season, which put Green in the starting role. He missed one of those games, but in the other three, he caught 14 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
Over the course of the full season—in 13 games, missing three—he caught 37 passes for 429 yards and four touchdowns, with the vast majority of the time featuring him in a secondary role behind Gates. As the primary tight end target in the passing game in Pittsburgh, his production could be impressive indeed.
The concern with Green, of course, is that he may not be much of a blocker, but one has to consider where he played, and the Chargers didn’t really seem to value the multi-faceted tight end. If the Steelers and tight end coach James Daniel didn’t believe they could work with him as a blocker, given their established M.O., I would expect that they would not have targeted him.